The Cats of 40th Place
“If that fleabag cat steals my snack one more time, I’m moving out,” Big Bessie said, as she nibbled on a salmon flavored treat.
“No you’re not,” the Great Harriet said. “We live in a shelter. You’re not going anywhere.”
“That sneaky cat knows I eat slowly so he takes advantage,” Big Bessie said. “I don’t like that.”
“Calm down, big girl. Harriet will talk to the young brute. He’s new and doesn’t know the ways of the cattery yet. Maybe he didn’t get enough to eat. He could’ve scraped by in the alleys like we did.”
“I was hungry when I was on the streets of Phoenix. I didn’t steal other cat’s food. OK, maybe once but I couldn’t help it.”
“Bessie, you get plenty now. Look at you.”
“Must you insult me?” Big Bessie said as she looked at her full figure.
“Don’t get so touchy,” Harriet said, licking her long whiskers. “Here comes your friend Freddy now.”
Big Bessie trailed behind Harriet but Harriet turned around and said, “Don’t breathe on me. I’ve got important work.”
“What should I do?” Bessie asked.
“What cats do best – sleep.”
Gray with stringy fur, Harriet sidled next Freddy. At first, the skinny orange boy ignored her but Harriet persisted. Ever so gently, she swatted him on the head. “Are you ignoring me? No one ignores the great Harriet.”
“Leave me alone,” Freddy said, baring yellow fangs.
“Hey fish face,” Harriet said. “About a hundred cats share this space until we find a home. In fact, there’s a trio of tarts I don’t care for but we have to respect each other. That applies to you.”
“Says who,” Freddy said.
“Ah, go choke on a mouse.”
“Watch your fresh mouth,” Harriet said.
“Listen here Mr. Freddy. No more stealing from Big Bessie,” the Great Harriet said, puffing out her bony chest. “A young punk shouldn’t take advantage of old cats. Act nice.”
Freddy brushed by Harriet. “Out of my way.”
“I’m queen of the cattery,” Harriet said. “This is our temporary home and we take care of it. Or haven’t you noticed?”
“Judging by your scrawny looks, you’re queen of the trash box.”
“Those are fighting words,” Harriet said with raised hackles. “But I’m a lady so I won’t claw your eyes out. My cats will figure out a way to deal with you.”
“Jeez, I’m scared,” Freddy said.
“There’s no room for bad attitudes in here.”
Harriet watched the cat scramble through the kitty door to the screened-in porch, a place few cats gathered during the blistering summer heat. Cats preferred the inside where cool air caressed their whiskers. Harriet motioned at Bessie to join her by a large bowl of kibble.
“What’d he say? Will he stop picking on me?” Big Bessie asked.
“Probably not,” Harriet said. “He’s got the attitude of a large hairball. I heard one cat say she’ll pounce on him if he bothers you again. Another will rip his ears off. I urged calm. We may be homeless discards but we still have our dignity, after all. Stooping to that bully’s level benefits no one.”
“So he gets away with picking on me?”
“Not at all,” Harriet said. “I’m working on a solution.”
“In a minute or two,” Harriet said. “A brilliant cat like me needs time to think.”
“I love your lion-sized attitude Harriet. If you can’t tame that wild one, then no one can.”
“Precisely my point.”
Visitors started trickling into the cattery so Harriet decided a confrontation with Freddy would wait until closing. Potential owners may not want persnickety cats although some people adopted fussy felines before. Maybe someone would adopt Freddy and remove the prickly puss. Order would then be restored to the cattery.
As she had for the past six months, Harriet checked people out as they ambled around looking for cats. Not just any owner would do, of course, for the most regal and royal cats like her. She had high expectations for her next home.
For seven years, Harriet led a charmed life in a comfortable, spacious adobe house on the edge of the Sonoran desert. She perched herself on windowsills and watched birds as they nibbled seeds in the feeders. For rest, she snuggled on fluffy pillows scattered about. She also slept on the velvet couch or Candice’s, her owner’s, queen-sized bed. Twice a day, she ate premium cat food. Every Sunday Candice broiled fresh fish for her. And she eliminated on no clump cat litter only. She always had a new scratching post. Nothing but the best. Then suddenly her cozy world came crashing down. An intoxicated driver slammed into Candice as she waited at a traffic signal. Death was instant. Two older brothers, Candice’s only living relatives, picked through her belongings like they were at a yard sale. Harriet wondered what would become of her. A surprise came when Candice’s attorney read her will. Candice left her entire estate worth at least $100,000 to a Phoenix animal shelter. They had to care for her beloved cat until they found her an ideal home. So Harriet remained in the cattery until the right owner came along.
In that time, Harriet learned to co-exist with the feline persuasion, something she never did before as an only cat. Candice would have wanted her to behave so she did she act right but she stepped up and took a leadership role. Newly arrived cats that scratched out a living on the streets for months or years had little or no idea about congregate cat life. Harriet showed them how. When semi-feral kittens needed taming, Harriet’s patience turned them into respectable cats worthy of adoption. If a cat had room-clearing gas, she urged them to stay on the patio until the fart fest cleared. She earned her position as head of the cattery. And that Freddy would accept his place too without a fur flying fiasco.
Five cats scored big that day, landing new homes. Harriet would miss them but she was pleased they had someone to own. Big Bessie remained. That old plump puss had been at the shelter for a long time. No one seemed to want Bessie. Now that the employees locked up and the visitors were gone, it was time to face Freddy. Harriet found him sleeping inside a carpet lined cat tree.
“Wake up Freddy, we need to talk,” Harriet said. He didn’t open eyes or even twitch. “You hear me.”
Harriet stretched her paw and gently poked Freddy’s head. “There’s rules around here you aren’t following.”
“Get lost you hag.” Freddy hissed and started to move away.
“We get good food here. It’s cleaned every day and there’s plenty of volunteers who dote on us so get over your mood.”
Freddy relaxed a bit as he said, “My mother was an alley cat in Mesa. Rhonda just entered high school when found me. Her mother said it was OK but her father wanted me out. So I had to live in the yard.”
“Must’ve been hot,” Harriet said.
“Rhonda tried to make it comfy for me, but every time her father saw her, she got whipped. So did her mom. So did I.”
“How awful,” Harriet said. “My Candice was so sweet. She fussed over me all the time, as she should have.”
“Rhonda’s mom got tired of her husband’s rages so she packed up her bags, took the kids and left.”
“I understood why they took off but I felt bad they stranded me,” Freddy said. “The last time Rhonda filled my dish with kibble, she had tears in her eyes. I knew something was wrong.”
“I’m sorry,” Harriet said.
“When her father came home and read the note, he got drunk. He started banging pots and pans in the kitchen so I scrambled over the fence and skittered away. I lived in the alleys for a few weeks until a strange lady brought me here.”
“So why the lousy attitude?”
“I want a nice home,” Freddy said. “And I don’t want to be hit again.”
“That’s what we all want,” Harriet said. “Start acting like a proper feline.”
“No one taught me catly behavior.”
“I’m teaching you.”
“I guess it’s OK to be friends. Not great friends, just friends.”
“Apologize to Big Bessie. She’s a forgiving cat.” Freddy moved slowly. “Get going. Come back and tell me you’ve apologized.”
“Do I have to?”
“I knew you’d see things my way. That’s why I’m the Great Harriet.”